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Beijing was outraged when Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong visited Taiwan earlier this month, just before he was sworn in as the new Prime Minister.
As a result, Lee had to reassure the Chinese in a nationally televised National Day Rally speech on Sunday that Singapore supports the Beijing's "One China" policy, and that it would side with China if China attacks Taiwan in retaliation for any push for independence.
America expressed concern a few days ago when Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said, in a visit to Beijing, that Australia was not bound to help the U.S. defend Taiwan.
Prime Minister John Howard came to Downer's "aid" on Friday by saying, "America has no more reliable ally than Australia and I am not ashamed to say that. We have a separate, strong, growing relationship with China and it is not in Australia's interests for there to be conflict between America and China and I will do everything I can, and Mr Downer will do everything he can, to discourage that ever occurring." He added that Australia's existing treaty obligations are clear: "We have to consult and come to each other's aid when we're under attack or involved in conflict. That's the situation."
The fact that both these nations are being forced to announced their intentions in the face of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is just a sign of the growing level of tension.
It's very rare for any politician to speak frankly. That's why I want to quote Singapore PM Lee's comments on China and Taiwan at length, and comment on them.
It's not entirely certain that no Asian or European country will recognize Taiwan. In Europe, Britain will probably join America and Australia in doing so. In Asia, India may do so as well.
For other Southeast Asia countries, the situation is very complicated, much more complicated than it is for Singapore.
As you can see from the adjoining map, Singapore is a tiny island in the midst of Malaysia and Indonesia. However, there are few things that are not apparent from the map.
Singapore has little difficulty siding with China, because Singapore is 80% Chinese and is very wealthy, the wealthiest country, per capita, in the region. Singapore has economic ties to both China and Taiwan, but if forced to choose will side with China for both ethnic and economic reasons.
But Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are quite different.
Malaysia is 24% Chinese, the Philippines are 1.5% Chinese, and Indonesia is 3% Chinese, and yet the Chinese control most of the economy in all three countries. The ethnic Chinese are the wealthy business and landowners in all three countries, and the indigenous populations, including many Muslims, are poor, often extremely poor, and act as servants of the Chinese. As described in Yale Professor Amy Chua's book, World on Fire, the level of hatred for the wealthy Chinese in these countries is quite high.
Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have not yet been forced to take sides in the conflict between China and Taiwan, and so Lee may have felt free to speak for them in his speech, but his claim is by no means certain.
He's certainly correct in this statement. China and America will fight over Taiwan, and as I'm told they say in Africa, "When the elephants fight, it's the grass that gets trampled."
This is an interesting statement from the point of view of Generational Dynamics. The great Chinese civil war fought between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek ended in 1949, and as long as the people who lived through that war were alive, none of them would risk another war between China and Taiwan. But the last generation of people who lived through that war have been disappearing (dying or retiring) in the last few years.
Today, the President of Taiwan is Chen Shui-bian, born in 1950. He has been a leader of the movement for Taiwan independence for decades. As President, Chen has announced that he will amend the Constitution in 2008 to move towards independence.
There is a stronger Taiwanese identity emerging. More people are speaking in the Taiwanese dialect, or hollow whey. Before Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian became presidents, most Taiwanese people considered themselves Chinese. Now many think of themselves as Taiwanese, not Chinese. Some [ruling party] leaders told me that they believe a majority of people now support an independent Taiwan and that this has become a mainstream view.
This is exactly the kind of behavior that Generational Dynamics predicts. The generation of leaders in Taiwan today are "generational prophets" that will lead the country into the next major war. They do this by being na´ve and uninformed about the danger they're in, and then by overreacting when they're suprised by unexpected threats. That's what's in store for Taiwan in the next few years.
This paragraph is close to my heart, because it's also so true of Americans. Younger generations of Americans, born after World War II, are as ignorant of world affairs as the Taiwanese are, and the American media doesn't help. If you've read this far in this article, then you know more about Taiwan and China than 99.9% of other Americans, even Chinese-Americans.
Many Taiwanese believe China will not use force on Taiwan, even if it moves towards independence. They are wrong. When I visited China in May, my sense was that the cross-strait issue was at the top of their agenda and that China is absolutely serious. To China, the 2008 Olympics is a small matter. But preventing Taiwanese independence is crucial to China.
The Taiwanese press speculated that I had visited Taiwan to play a mediator's role between China and Taiwan. It showed they had not understood the situation. I am in no position to play any such role and have no desire to do so. The issue between China and Taiwan is not a misunderstanding that can be resolved by the good offices of an intermediary. It is a fundamental and deep contradiction which will require great skill and restraint on both sides to manage.
There is therefore a real risk of miscalculation and mishap. If a war breaks out across the strait, we will be forced to choose between the two sides. As a friend of both sides, any decision will be painful. But if the conflict is provoked by Taiwan, then Singapore cannot support Taiwan.
It's very unusual for any country's leaders to be so frank as to come close to predicting international war, but that's what Lee is doing, and it's why I wanted to quote his remarks at length.
When Australian PM John Howard said a couple of days ago that treaty obligations required Australia to side with American if Taiwan is attacked, he was referring to the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand and the United States) defense security treaty for the Pacific region, signed in 1951.
At that time, Australia was fighting alongside America in the Korean War. At that time, many people believed that World War II could have been prevented if Hitler had been stopped earlier, and the Korean War, and later the Vietnam War, were fought in order to stop communism and prevent a new world war. The ANZUS treaty was signed with that intention in mind.
New Zealand is no longer an active member of ANZUS ever since 1986, when New Zealand banned the entry of US Navy ships into their ports in the belief that they were carrying nuclear weapons or were nuclear-powered. However, ANZUS and the alliance with America has continued to be a foundation of its defense policy.
When Australian Foreign Minister Downer told his Beijing hosts on Wednesday that the ANZUS treaty did not bind Australia to help America defend Taiwan, he suggested that the treaty obligated Australia only if China attacks America.
When John Howard corrected Down by saying, "We are a very close ally of the United States and a faithful ANZUS partner," he was saying that Australia is fully committed to its terms. Howard also said, in a radio interview, that the obligations under the ANZUS treaty were clear and required consultation and to come to the other's aid should it be attacked or became involved in conflict.
As I described in my discussion of Operation Summer Pulse 04, and Taiwan's Wild Election Battle, the generational changes going on in China and Taiwan are causing Taiwan to become more independent, and are causing China to become more and belligerent towards even small moves by Taiwan towards independence.
Most Americans (and even, according to Singapore's PM Lee, most Taiwanese) believe that China will not oppose Taiwanese independence.
Why should they? Taiwan is already pretty independent. What difference would it make to China if Taiwan became fully independent. Who cares?
China cares. They have to deal with separatist movements in their Western provinces, and not standing up to Taiwan would give those provinces a green light.
Even without that, this is a matter of great principle to the Chinese. They believe, as a matter of national honor, that Taiwan must be part of China. An independent Taiwan would be as unacceptable to China as an independent Alaska would be to America.
The trends in China and Taiwan that are leading to war are not receding. Instead, as generations of cautious older people who remember the 1949 civil war are replaced by new generations of younger people who have no idea what war is like, the trends toward war are swelling. A war with China would also lead to anti-Chinese civil wars in China, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia. It's very hard to see how full scale war in the Pacific region can be avoided in the next few years.